Emissions trading arguments as IMO gets to grips with CO2 strategy

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

24 October 2017


This week the IMO working group on GHG is meeting to attempt to progress a strategy for future emissions reduction measures that will be debated next year at MEPC. At issue is whether the EEDI rules should be brought forward and beefed up with a new Phase 4 to kick in after the present round of reductions is concluded. Also on the agenda will be the possibility of market based measures (levies on bunkers or emission trading) being used to curb shipping activity. For environmentalists and far too many of shipping’s own industry bodies for comfort, the demands are for more stringent controls and reductions and to bring shipping in to the Paris Agreement. Those positions ignore the fact that the nations that signed up to the Paris Agreement explicitly excluded shipping and aviation from the final document. That was not done because the shipping lobby had a powerful voice. It does not and all actions taken both at the IPCC and IMO meetings are done on the results of votes by governments not lobby organisation from either side of the debate. In the run up to the IMO meeting, there have been calls for the IMO to impose a mandatory speed limit on ships – specifically bulkers, tankers and container ships as a means of reducing the industry’s output of CO2. Such an imposition might help overcome the current overcapacity a little but in the long run it would produce far more problems and very likely a much higher CO2 output from the industry overall. A 10% cut on average speeds of ships would inevitable mean a 10% increase in the world fleet once any capacity imbalance is removed. That in turn means a much higher output of CO2 emissions from shipbuilding, very likely more congestion in ports, a need for even more crew members at a time when we are told there is a shortage of qualified officers and very likely a great deal of dissention from cargo interests who are already looking nostalgically at the faster service provision of a decade ago. There has also been a call from one environmentalist group for the shipping industry to have less influence at the IMO. But as already pointed out, the votes at the IMO are made by governments not the shipping industry and the environmentalist lobby is not exactly missing with at least half a dozen bodies from the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea through Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and IFAW to the WWF having consultative status at the IMO. Furthermore, several of the other organisations that might be thought of as representing the shipping industry are in fact technical organisations or seafarer bodies that have little influence themselves in how ships are operated. What the outcome of the IMO meeting will be remains to be seen and whatever it proposes could easily be changed at subsequent IMO meetings. One thing is sure and that is it will be politicians that decide the eventual result and they will doubtless instruct their delegates at the IMO with a view to preserving their positions which in the long run depends upon the whim of the people.